Remembering Jack Buck (thanks, Joe)

“We’ll see you … tomorrow night.”

I’m among those who thought it was perfect.

Just perfect.

Like a lot of Arkansas natives my age, I grew up listening to Jack Buck broadcast Cardinal baseball games on the radio. Whenever Jack would do a network radio or television broadcast (which was often), it was like having a familiar uncle behind the microphone.

Many of us in Arkansas smiled and nodded as Jack Buck called Kirby Puckett’s walk-off home run in Game 6 of the 1991 World Series. Minnesota defeated Atlanta to force a Game 7.

Ol’ Jack had done it again, we said to ourselves. He had delivered a line for the ages.

How could Joe Buck, raised in St. Louis with the home broadcast booth at Busch Stadium as a second home, not have ended Thursday’s classic Cardinal win over the Rangers with the same words his dad had uttered two decades ago?

Here’s how Ed Heil put it at www.storytellermn.com: “A sportscaster’s call of a game can define the sportscaster. It can define the moment, and it can define the athlete. In many cases, it is recorded in history connecting all three. The most famous sports call of my lifetime is Al Michaels’ ‘Miracle on Ice’ call during the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid. … You know they’re great calls because you remember them together. There have been great sports moments, with great athletes, but you may not remember the call.”

Heil concluded: ‘We like to own our teams, our players and certainly our moments in sports history — our ‘where were you when’ moments. As people, though, we love our parents. As sons, we love our dads, and when they’re gone we miss them terribly. I’ve never met Joe Buck, but I understand he and his father were extremely close. Joe Buck followed in his father’s steps in his career, and I assume Jack Buck was quite proud of his son.

“This wasn’t the first time Joe Buck has spoken the words of his father in a telecast — he’s recognized him through his words on many occasions in the past. Many Minnesotans want to own the moment in 1991 and keep it as their own. I understand that. Yet as a person whose father passed away 10 years ago, I see last night’s call as a beautiful salute from son to father. … How wonderful it must have been for Joe Buck to pay public tribute to his dad, a person he likely respected and loved dearly. Yep, he said it, and I’m glad he did.”

Cindy Boren wrote for a Washington Post blog that Joe Buck “nailed this call with just a simple, elegant sentence, taken from his dad’s 1991 call. Perfection.”

Thank goodness the Cardinals returned this year to their old home on KMOX-AM, 1120.

I was the master of ceremonies last night for the UAM Sports Hall of Fame induction banquet at Monticello. After the banquet, I drove through those dark pine woods in the rain, listening to Mike Shannon and John Rooney all the way home.

At 10 p.m., as I passed through Pine Bluff with the rain coming down hard, my wife called my cell phone.

“How are you doing?” she asked.

“I’m mad at the Cardinals,” I replied. “They’re down by three.”

I pulled up to my home in Little Rock with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. I thought about just listening to the final out on the radio. Deciding that I would watch the Rangers’ celebration, I went inside, where I knew my 14-year-old son (a baseball player who loves the game) would be glued to the television set.

Almost one hour later. . .

You know the rest of that story.

The Cardinals’ connection to KMOX, whose 50,000 watts reach across the country at night, dates back to the 1920s. The club had a consecutive run of games from 1955 through 2005 on KMOX. I wasn’t born until 1959, so I never knew anything else.

Following the 2005 season, the Cardinals moved down the dial to the less powerful KTRS-AM, 550. Now, they’re back home.

I thought about Jack Buck as I listened to the Mighty Mox on the way home last night.

I remembered the call I had placed to KMOX in early 1986 when I was the assistant sports editor at the Arkansas Democrat. I was hoping to interview Buck when he came to town to serve as the master of ceremonies for the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame induction banquet.

I wondered if he would return my call.

He called back that day.

I would have known the voice anywhere: “Jack Buck returning your call.”

I made my request, and he said: “I’m coming in a day early to go to the races at Oaklawn with my friend Jim Elder. But I have to eat breakfast, don’t I? Meet me in the lobby of the Excelsior Hotel.”

He was resplendent that day in a green blazer. We sat down in the Apple Blossom Cafe in the lobby of the Excelsior for breakfast.

I asked him if he still thought about Don Denkinger’s call from the previous October.

For Cardinal fans, no explanation is needed.

For those of you who are not Cardinal fans, here is the short version of perhaps the worst call in sports history: St. Louis led the Kansas City Royals three games to two in Game 6 of the 1985 World Series. The Cardinals had taken a 1-0 lead in the eighth inning on a single by backup catcher Brian Harper.

Todd Worrell came in to pitch for the Cardinals in the ninth. Batter Jorge Orta hit a slow roller to Jack Clark on first base, who tossed it to Worrell for a clear out.

Denkinger called Orta safe. The Royals went on to win Game 6 by a score of 2-1.

The Cardinals were demoralized, losing Game 7 by a score of 11-0.

Here’s how Jack Buck answered my question that morning in February 1986: “I think about it every day. I wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, doing my call of the play.”

Then, in his best radio voice, he repeated the call as people in the restaurant turned and stared: “Orta, leading off, swings and hits it to the right side, and the pitcher has to cover. He is … SAFE, SAFE, SAFE.”

Later that year, the newspaper sent me to Washington, D.C., to cover Congress.

I lived in the basement of a townhouse on Capitol Hill. I couldn’t pick up KMOX inside, but I could pick it up in my car after dark.

On the night of Oct. 14, 1987, the Cardinals were on the verge of defeating San Francisco in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series.

Rather than watching the final inning on television, I decided I wanted to hear Jack Buck proclaim “that’s a winner” on KMOX. So I sat alone in my car to listen.

I would not meet Melissa until the following summer. I had no way of knowing while sitting in my car listening to 1120 AM on that night of Oct. 14, 1987, that my wedding would be exactly two years later — Oct. 14, 1989.

At any rate, it brought back a number of memories listening to Mike Shannon on KMOX last night as I drove home from Monticello.

And Joe Buck’s ending to the Fox telecast brought back even more memories of Jack Buck, one of my broadcasting heroes.

As the home run in the bottom of the 11th sailed over the fence in center, I looked at my son and said: “I don’t believe what I just saw!”

He didn’t understand the context of those words. But I did, and that’s all that mattered.

 

 

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8 Responses to “Remembering Jack Buck (thanks, Joe)”

  1. Vance Walker says:

    Great memories, Rex! I also loved what Joe Buck did last night…Jack Buck was a broadcasting hero of mine as well!

  2. Zac Muncy says:

    Jack Buck: “I got a letter from a lady in Cincinnati–Ball 1–she’s been a Cardinals fan since 1953–strike! She hasn’t missed a game on the radio–low and away, Ball 2–since 1964 when she first heard a Cards game on WCIN–Ball 3. . . .” This is how I remembered him–he could call a game AND tell a story!

  3. Michael Simons says:

    I remember Jack saying Cardnial Baseball is on the air. As the broadcast came on. We would get a radio schedule in the mail and would keep it in the truck. Wither I was with Dad on a constuction site or with my Great Uncles out on the Farm we would tune into the games and listen to Mr. Buck call them.

  4. Rob Stephens says:

    One of his regular calls was when there was 2 on, 2 out and 2-2 count: ‘deuces are wild’

    The one call that will always be remebered, Buck’s call of Kirk Gibson’s home run to win game 1 in the 1988 World Series. “I don’t believe what I just saw!” It was one of those that it was better to HEAR it on the radio than to watch it on televsion.

  5. Warren Spillman says:

    I’m only 29 but I spent many a summer evening listening to Jack Buck and Mike Shannon paint the picture for those of us that couldn’t catch the game on TV. One of my best memories of summer is me and my best friend playing catch in the street while we listened to the game on the truck radio with the doors open so we could hear it clearly. I remember the smells (fresh cut grass and bbq grills), the sounds (Buck and Shannon) and the feel of the ball hitting the glove. It was perfect, as was Jack’s ability to call a game.

  6. Tim Hamilton says:

    Rex,
    I am tardy in reading this great post. I am an avid Cardinal and Jack
    Buck fan. I loved the way you ended your post with the reference to
    the great Jack Buck line describing the Kirk Gibson homer.

    I wanted to share a brief Jack Buck personal memory. We were on
    assignment from KATV in St. Louis doing a couple of reports on the
    Cardinals.

    We entered the elevator at field level to ride up to the press box. Mr.
    Buck, Scott Inman, the lady working the elevator and myself. She was
    an elderly woman and she mentioned to Mr. Buck that it was her
    birthday. He wished her a Happy Birthday. She thanked him. We
    arrived at the press level. As Mr. Buck walked out I noticed that he
    put a $100 bill in her hand and said enjoy your birthday. What a cool
    moment.

    I agree that Joe Buck’s call of game 6 was right on the money. It was
    baseball perfect.

    Go Cards.

    Tim

  7. rexnelson says:

    The great sports announcers have always been among my heroes, Tim. Frankly, I envy the fact that you got to spend hundreds and hundreds of hours through the years working with Paul Eells — Rex

  8. Tim Hamilton says:

    Rex,

    I will always treasure every memory from working with Paul.

    He was always the same. A gentleman in every situation.

    We worked together for 26 years. With all the deadlines and
    last minute editing of Razorback coverage, I never once saw
    him lose his cool . He was the ultimate pro in his job.

    I remember we were returning from St. Louis after doing
    a piece on Matt Jones in his first year in the NFL. Paul received
    a phone call. I could tell it was something that he was excited
    about. The call ended. A few minutes passed. Finally, almost
    embarrassed, he told me the call was to inform him that he had
    been selected to the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame. He was honored
    and humbled. He told me he felt bad because there were others
    that should be in the Hall before him. He said he would gladly
    give up his spot to those he felt were more deserving. I told him
    I thought he should have been in even sooner.

    He was “One of a Kind.”

    Tim

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